The great ferocious talent of Christopher Hitchens is gone — he died last night of complications from esophageal cancer. We knew him well; that is, he was one of those people who opened himself up so thoroughly, who expressed himself so excellently, who had a personality so strong, that millions of us can hold him in our mind’s eye. I can see him now — there’s a glass in his hand, his eyes are calm and steady, and he’s speaking in measured tones and with flawless English sentences with passion and reason perfectly intertwined. Even if I didn’t agree with him, I’d be standing awed and respectful before his clarity and elegance.
But I do not say farewell to Hitch. I do not say “rest in peace”. I definitely do not say that he has gone to a better place. I actually find myself already bracing myself for the next sign of deep disrespect that is destined to appear soon: the hackneyed political cartoon that draws him standing at the pearly gates.
Hitch is dead. We are a diminished people for the loss. There can be and should be no consolation, no soft words that encourage an illusion of heavenly rescue, no balm of lies. We should feel as we do with every death, that a part of us has been ripped from our hearts, and suffer pain and grief — and we are reminded that this is the fate we all face, that someday we too will die, and that we are all “living dyingly”, as Hitch put it so well.
As atheists, I think none of us can find solace in the cliches or numbness in the delusion of an afterlife. Instead, embrace the fierce strong emotions of anger and sorrow, feel the pain, rage against the darkness, fight back against our mortal enemy Death, and live exuberantly while we can. Confront mortality clear-eyed and pugnacious, uncompromising and aggressive.
It’s what Hitch would have wanted of us.
It’s how Hitch lived.